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Upgrading Your Tacoma’s Headlights for Enhanced Off-Roading

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Time flies when you're having fun, and the same holds true for off-roading in your Tacoma. Finding yourself on the trail after the sun goes down, however, could be an unwelcome trial if you're not set up for it. Investing in some aftermarket lighting to push back the night is an excellent safety measure should things go sour.

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Running through the woods with your Tacoma is the proper thing to do once you leave the lot. In the dark, it can be quite frustrating if the way isn’t properly lit. Investing in high-powered auxiliary lighting can be quite the expense, though. The idea of adding additional flood and fog lights is based on the idea that you have additional mounting surfaces readily available. To do so would mean that not only are costly lights purchased, but so are systems such as aftermarket bumpers, bull bars, roof racks, or even roll bars. Without these systems installed, you’ll either have to drill into the sheet metal or simply work with the lighting you’ve got.

Lighting the Way

Tacomas, like all trucks, can simply have the factory headlight system upgraded. Doing so is much cheaper than installing auxiliary lighting and requires no fabrication and is budget friendly. For any type of off-road truck, we recommend that auxiliary lighting is eventually added but to get started, you can work with what you’ve got. The first thing you need to know to start making upgrades is the type of bulb that is stock to your Tacoma’s headlight system. This is because simply swapping the bulb may be all you need to do in order to best serve your truck’s purpose. 

Stock Bulb Industry Numbers

  • 2005-2011: H4/9003
  • 2012-2015: H4/9003
  • 2016-Current: H11

Light Types and When to Use Them

Before we talk about swapping bulbs, we need to address the housings the bulbs sit in. Projector and reflective housings have very specific advantages in the automotive world. Knowing which housing you want to use comes before bulb selection because certain bubs work best in specific housings. If you blindly purchase light housings and bulb combinations, you might wind up with an underperforming system.

Reflective Housings

Reflective housings are the traditional types of headlight housings and are stock on Tacoma’s running up until 2016. The advantages? They are factory equipment and they spread the light across a widespread area. The cons are that they don’t send a concentrated beam of light to the front of the Tacoma. 

For some, this isn’t an issue but it is not ideal for all applications. For trucks that spend time in wide open areas, like the open road, these light housings work best.

Pros

  • Factory Equipment
  • Widespread Beam

Cons

  • Low Concentration Light Pattern

Projector Housings

Projector type headlights have been making waves in the aftermarket since their introduction to the world. These lights look very appealing, but manipulate the light pattern in a way that brings advantages to the table reflective housings don’t.

Projector beams focus the light pattern for a highly concentrated light beam in front of the truck. These housings also take full advantage of particular aftermarket bulbs. The obvious cons are that the beam isn’t great for highway use and serves better in tight areas, like trails.

Pros

  • Concentrated beam pattern
  • Take Advantage of Aftermarket Bulbs 

Cons

  • Beam doesn’t serve best function for highway use

Take Advantage of Your Bulbs

Brighter aftermarket bulbs swapped in place of factory equipment has been a top mod for off-road enthusiasts since the beginning of time. Though, particular housings take advantage of bulbs in different manors. To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, you should know which bulbs should be used when on your Tacoma.

Halogens: Brighter halogen bulbs are cost effective, easy swaps to make. Halogen bulbs release a widespread beam and this means they work best with reflective housings. For the weekend warrior, these are the best option.

LEDs: LED bulbs release a concentrated light pattern meaning the work best with projector housings. These bulbs can require a complicated install and may not be legal in particular areas. Serious off-roaders will benefit greatly with a combination of projector housings and LED bulbs.

HID: High intensity discharge bulbs will work well in either type of housing. They work particularly well in projector housings though. Because of laws and regulations, we find that these best serve their purpose with off-roaders but may do well in any application.

Take Aim

When it comes to installing headlights, it’s not as simple as bolting aftermarket units in place. You will have to take the time to properly aim them. You will want to take the time to ensure the beams are set properly to ensure the road ahead is adequately illuminated. 

If the truck is lifted, you want to take particular care to ensure the ground in front of the truck is getting light. If not, you can miss some obstacles that will quickly end the fun when crawling around the forest. Also, you want to take care to aim them so that while driving around, you aren’t blinding other drivers, especially if you have projector beams and/or brighter bulbs.

Wire Splicing

Some aftermarket bulbs, like LEDs and HIDs, require special harnesses to be installed. Before you write off any bulbs because of this, take into consideration that the days of splicing special harnesses into your Tacoma’s factory wiring are over.

Plug and Play

Wiring up headlights is made simple with the use of plug and play harnesses. These units are set in place between the bulbs and the original harness. All you have to do is plug them into place. If you skip this step, the bulbs will not function properly and your efforts and expenses will be rendered moot.

Fitment includes: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, Pre-Runner, X-Runner, SR, SR-5, TRD-Sport, TRd-Off-Road, Limited, TRD-Pro